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Café Culture

The 1950s saw the emergence of the type of café that is now common in inner-city Melbourne — essentially European in its cultural roots but frequented by people from diverse backgrounds.

The Legend is an early example of a café whose customers were linked primarily by a pursuit of style. It opened in 1956 at 280 Bourke Street, replacing the Anglo-American Café. Run by the Nicolades family, originally from Greece, the Anglo-American offered a conventional menu of steak and chips and whiting and snacks. The coffee, like the décor and the food, was commonplace.

Gaggia espresso machine
magnifyGaggia espresso machine

Ion Nicolades, grandson of the Anglo-American's founder, involved the sculptor Clement Meadmore in a complete makeover of the family cafe. With its mosaic tile exterior, Italian-style stone floor and drop lights, the Legend Café was totally Modern. Its signature feature was a painting, in seven panels, of the legend of Sinbad the Sailor by Leonard French, who also designed the leather-bound menus.

The continental flavour of the Legend attracted a bohemian clientele as well as stylish members of the middle class and, at night, the theatre crowd. Italian and Greek accents added spice to the chatter and the ever-present sounds of jazz.

The Legend closed in 1970 when the building that housed it was demolished.

Other significant early post war café in central Melbourne include Pellegrinis, Mirka's Café, Mario's and the Sidewalk Café.

This was one of Melbourne's first espresso coffee machines. It is from Don Camillo Restaurant, which opened in 1955 near Victoria Market. Coffee is still being served there at the original tables and chairs. Few of Melbourne's early expresso machines survive. Many were sold as scrap metal in the 1970s. They are now valuable collectors' items.


Don Camillos Restaurant
magnifyDon Camillos Restaurant, near the Victoria Market


Legend Café
magnifyLegend Café, Bourke Street, 1956


Inside the Legend Café
magnifyPanels by Leonard French, inside the Legend Café


Patrons enjoying the atmosphere
magnifyPatrons enjoying the atmosphere


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